The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens not long after the events of the 2012 franchise reboot that ended with Peter Parker promising a dying Captain Stacy to stay away from his daughter for her own protection. It’s evident early on in the new movie, that Peter (Andrew Garfield) is having a hard time sticking to his word. As if you can blame him; Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is smart, funny, and gorgeous. And they have terrific chemistry together.

It’s this crackling chemistry, and the playful romance between Peter and Gwen that’s at the heart of director Marc Webb’s sequel. Having previously directed (500) Days of Summer – that inventive and charming tale of young love pursued and lost – Webb knows exactly how to mine their relationship both for laughs and emotional resonance.

But more of that later.
When we first meet our web-slinging hero in the new film, he’s bounding to the rescue as a truck of hijacked plutonium rattles through the city streets. Having evidently embraced his role as the guardian of Manhattan, there’s a newfound confidence and cockiness to him as he delivers those witty one-liners while revealing a terrific knack for physical comedy.

The fun and games are short-lived though. Peter continues to grapple with the mystery of his parents’ disappearance (revealed to us in a lengthy prologue), while simultaneously negotiating his maybe/maybe-not relationship with Gwen. But a romantic tug-of-war is hardly conflict enough for a superhero movie. So Webb and his writers overstuff the plot with multiple villains.

Following an arc not very different from The Riddler’s in 1995’s Batman Forever, Jamie Foxx plays Max Dillon, a mild-mannered Oscorp employee and Spidey super-fan who turns against our hero when he falls into a tank of electric eels. The accident turns him into neon-nemesis Electro, and bequeaths him with the power to manipulate electricity. A scene in which Foxx trolls an empty street, setting off car alarms is especially chilling.

Yet, Electro ends up serving more as a plot device than as a real character. Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) is a millionaire scion ailing from a genetic disease, convinced that Spider-Man’s blood can save his life. When the web-slinger turns him down, he vows revenge, morphing into the film’s central baddie, The Green Goblin. Although Harry is sidelined for long stretches in the film, DeHaan leaves a lasting impression, delivering a performance that is creepy and mercurial in equal parts.

Rounding out the cast of bad guys is Paul Giamatti’s Rhino, whom we meet late into the film, in a single scene only. He’s clearly being set-up as a lasting rival to Spider-Man, along with other antagonists hinted at in a crucial scene that sets the stage for the forthcoming Sinister Six spinoff that the producers announced last December.

Now twelve years since Sam Raimi first put Spider-Man on film, with Tobey Maguire starring, special effects have evolved considerably. The web-slinging and leaping-off-skyscrapers scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are exhilarating to watch, and the action sequences too are imaginatively staged, particularly Electro’s showdown with Spidey in Times Square.

But even with three villains to spar against, it’s his scenes with Gwen Stacy that give off maximum sparks. Garfield is a competent actor who brings a nice dose of goofiness to his part, and (his real-life girlfriend) Stone is utterly charming. Whether joking about or even breaking up (as they often do in the film), they’re riveting when they’re together on screen. The film also captures a zippy wisecracking energy that feels entirely new, like Peter’s playful bickering with Aunt May (Sally Field).

It’s the film’s bloated third act that wears you out, including an obligatory set-piece that results in mass destruction. At 2 hours and 22 minutes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is far too long, and seldom feels urgent. The sparkling lightness of the first half is lost somewhere in the messy plotting of the second. Yet, Webb shrewdly brings down the curtains leaving you once again invested in the central romance over anything else in the film.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. This is that rare love story disguised as a big-budget superhero film.

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